The Move to Modernize: Improving Data Literacy and Enhancing Autonomy
In business, longevity is one of the greatest compliments. Life is often unpredictable, and a longer tenure makes it more likely that an organization has adapted and responded well to that unpredictability. However, a well-established company has the additional challenge of modernizing operations.
Modernization means different things to different organizations. In some cases, it simply indicates replacing existing equipment with the latest technology. In other cases, new advances may require updating old facilities or even building new structures. For , modernization meant exploring the world of data analytics and fulfilling the need for a self-service analytics model.
I had the pleasure of joining Unimed-BH in 2013 and in 2018, I joined the Analytics and Business Intelligence Coordination department, part of a team of data engineers and analysts. Together, we are charged with transforming data into action. In 2021 I was named a , one of 50 Qlik customer advocates and counselors who are driving significant impacts from data and then broadly sharing those outcomes with others. But those impacts didn’t happen overnight.
Moving Smarter Toward Better Intelligence
Unimed-BH was founded in 1967 by a group of 23 doctors. We were created to secure the freedom and dignity of health care professionals and advocate for necessary structural improvements within the field. Today, we operate as a medical work cooperative and health insurance provider.
Under our previous system, my department was responsible for providing data analysis for the whole company. Funneling the entire operation's data through a single office caused a tremendous bottleneck. The resulting delays made it nearly impossible to make data-driven decisions in a timely fashion. Leaders were forced to either make a gut decision in the moment or wait for weeks until they could get the right data.
Part of our modernization effort was to provide more analysis autonomy to our users. We knew that becoming a data-driven organization would only happen if people could personally access the data they needed for smarter choices. In addition, we also needed to create a single source of truth. With more than 100 separate systems within the cooperative, any serious attempt at a mature business intelligence (BI) program had to include consolidating and cleaning our data pool.
Realizing the Potential of Data
We began our modernization process with a proof of concept, at the time comparing Power BI and Cognos. Although we initially chose Cognos, in 2013 we switched to . Qlik's platform offered real-time data gathering capabilities that were simply too powerful to ignore. A few years later in 2017, we included as a way to deliver reports in a number of different formats. A year later, we had about 120 dashboards when we decided to move to . During much of this time, Oracle has continued to serve as our data warehouse.
The technical migration from QlikView to Qlik Sense was intuitive and simple. However, getting people comfortable with the new program took some work because they were so comfortable with the previous platform. For example, many of our users had grown accustomed to the color scheme and positioning of objects in QlikView. For these users, Qlik Sense dashboards were frustrating simply because the elements were in different places or in different colors. It sounds silly, but because of this resistance, we put a lot of effort into balancing design and performance. Other users were unable to trust the data without being sure about the source. In these cases, we had to demonstrate the direct link to the data pool before they felt comfortable enough to trust the potential insights.
In retrospect, this was a change management operation more than a technical migration. When we migrated, we focused most of our efforts on our people instead of the technology. After all, people are part of the system.
Navigating the Pandemic with Modern BI
Today, our data operation is much closer to full maturity. We have 500 Qlik licenses and 217 dashboards throughout the company. While I would love to take total credit for the current circumstance, the pandemic also had a huge impact on our adoption. As a result of the years we spent attempting to get people accustomed to using data to make decisions, we responded to the fear and uncertainty of COVID-19 by turning to BI.
At our core, we are a medical institution. Our directors are all doctors, and we frequently deal with nurses and other medical specialists. These are not professionals that are educated to read data tables or manage dashboards. But because of our data literacy and Qlik Sense training sessions, teams throughout the organization used data to drive decisions during the pandemic.
Facility managers used Qlik Sense to track occupancy in our hospital beds. This information was critical not just for the hospital, but for the entire city of residents that may require medical care. Other professionals used the platform to better understand the cycles of the pandemic so that we could properly anticipate needs. We also used Qlik products to study and improve ambulance routes so people could get faster care.
However, even with these glowing examples of people using data to provide better medical care, there were still those who didn’t use BI to its full potential. We had staff that glanced at dashboards, but still spent time buried in Excel spreadsheets. Some of our leaders accessed the data but made decisions based on their gut feelings. We knew that we had to work extra hard to reach these holdouts.
Empowering Users with Data Education
Having discovered how important people are to our transformation, we launched the DICA data literacy program in July 2020 that focuses on data access, data tools, and data education. As part of this project, we developed three personas: basic, intermediate, and advanced. The idea was to create resources that could serve all three groups within our organization. That way, advanced users could tackle interesting concepts like machine learning while others learned how to read graphics and make sense of the data in front of them. We also introduced everyone to various laws that govern the use of data.
Because of the pandemic, the training program was conceived as an online offering. We recorded a variety of videos and created presentations that employees accessed on demand. In our pilot data literacy program, we trained 102 employees using a four-hour online class. After just that one session, our exit interviews indicated that participants had more confidence in their ability to analyze data. Those results led us to offer those online training modules to anyone within our entire organization.
I should mention that it is critical to begin programs like this with executive-level support. Changing the company culture is nearly impossible without the backing of leadership. We secured the resources and time to create the seminars because top-level leaders believed in our goal. I cannot imagine accomplishing such a holistic data literacy curriculum without the leadership behind us. We would’ve taken twice as long to accomplish half as much.
The Age of Autonomy
A funny thing happened as more people adopted Qlik Sense. As users explored the data by themselves, they began to create more dashboards on their own. We now have 217 dashboards that people use regularly. In addition, people that were used to getting data reports once a month now accessed real-time data during presentations. Our job went from shepherding the data for the entire company to simply supporting the efforts of others. For many of our staff, data-based insights are becoming the lifeblood of our decisions.
For many of our staff, autonomy is only possible with mobility. They need to be able to access data from boardrooms, client meetings, or emergency rooms. Wherever decisions happen, data must be accessible. Moving to a mobile application only accelerated the adoption. Suddenly, people could access Qlik Sense dashboards from anywhere.
At the end of the day, our organization is about rendering service to medical providers and the patients they assist. Making data-driven decisions can help us operate more intelligently and anticipate problems. But migrating to a new technical platform is only part of the equation. We had to learn to modernize our staff and upgrade the human component of our data system.
Believing in data is the first step, and Qlik helped our staff develop that belief.